Jottings: Too long taken for granted
I am afraid to say I am guilty of taking a lot of things for granted. Like the wonder of the seasons the variety of vegetation that comes with the change in weather. Or the miracle of electricity. When I flip on one those wall switches, I always expect the lights to automatically go on or off. It really gives me a start when a light bulb produces a dramatic flash and then all goes black. Friendship and the human heart are a couple of other things I have just taken for granted — that is until one of my friends develops heart disease or suffers a heart attack.
Several months ago I had a wakeup call regarding how complacent and unappreciative I have been about some of the nerves in my body. I took an innocent little Sunday afternoon nap only to wake up and find that only half of my face was working. Only half of my mouth would accurately direct water from a drinking glass into my mouth. My legs and hands still functioned well but not only did the left side of my mouth sag like a rotting jack-o-lantern but my left eye drooped radically. No amount of effort could activate the muscles that had worked normally a few hours earlier. Had I had a stroke? What could cause this weird situation?
A trip to the emergency room and several tests revealed no brain damage or heart attack — just very high blood pressure and probably a case of Bells Palsy — a condition that paralyzes the seventh cranial nerve which controls movement of the facial muscles on the left side of the face. Somehow, I had always assumed that my eye lids would automatically blink forever, preventing my eyes from drying out and protecting them from dust, bright lights or foreign objects. I gained a new appreciation for the amazing value of my lips in producing intelligible speech. Somehow the letters "p", "f", and "b" don't come out right with only half a mouth of explosive air. Not only did I gain a new appreciation of lips and tongue in speech and drinking, but also their role in guiding food to be bitten by the teeth. When the tongue and lips don't get out of the way when biting down or chewing there can be frequent painful episodes of biting down on the cheek or lips. Try chewing food on the "other side" of your mouth without the ability of your tongue to redirect it, or experiment with spitting out toothpaste without the use of both sides of your mouth operating normally.
Needless to say, as I am adjusting to my "new normal", I find myself a great deal more appreciative of what this seventh cranial nerve has done for me for over 80 years without a single complaint. It only took a short vacation when a dentist gave me a shot of Novocain in order to fill a cavity without having pain.
I have a new empathy for people who have suffered injury or stroke that terminated the use of this nerve and the many muscles that this tiny filament activates. I am told that most people with Bells Palsy recover the use of their facial muscles in six months to a year. I am still working on facial exercises, trying to get my eyelid to remember how to blink and hoping the rotting jack-o-lantern look will eventually leave. The good side of the situation is a new awareness and appreciation of the miraculous human body, and of the may other things I have previously "TAKEN FOR GRANTED."
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